Wasteland 3 is easily one of the best games of 2020. The third game in the franchise that inspired/established Fallout is a phenomenal RPG filled to the brim with deep, engaging lore, a fantastic universe, extensive stats and character building and absolutely brilliant gameplay.
Wasteland 3 is so good, there’s very little to complain about. For example, the visuals are a little dated and not as crisp or impressive as players might be used to in 2020. There’s nothing wrong with the graphics at all, they’re just not bleeding edge.
Additionally, there are occasionally weird bugs and glitches but none that ever forced me to reboot the game. Finally, in the early sections of Wasteland 3, exploration can be a little tedious as players are asked to trudge back and forth between a few points. But that’s about it.
Wasteland 3 Review
A 3D, isometric RPG, Wasteland 3 is everything Fallout 3 and 4 aren’t. It’s tightly focused, engaging and designed to keep players invested for the duration. There’s no wasted time or space in Wasteland 3. Exploring for the sake of exploring isn’t really an option and instead, everything you do is geared towards progressing through this world and its story. What I’m saying is, there’s always a point in Wasteland 3 and while Fallout 3 and 4 offered freedom on a massive scale, it came at a price, player agency.
Wasteland 3 has it in spades and while it’s certainly not a linear experience, its narrower focus means less time finding things to do and more time simply doing.
Wasteland 3 is set in Colorado in a post-apocalyptic future which has rendered the earth a frozen ‘wasteland.’ Players can select from a number of pre-made Rangers, to begin with, or are able to create their own characters. Instead of selecting one character, players begin with a pair and grow their party as they progress. Multiple characters and classes are key to Wasteland 3 as it’s next to impossible to build a character who is proficient in all required skills. And that’s the beauty of the game. Building a ragtag squad of Rangers, each with their own specialisations and weapons is hugely satisfying, especially when you get into combat and have every base covered.
Oftentimes, while exploring, players will discover areas that can’t be accessed, locks that can’t be picked and the like. These areas will display what skills and level are required for access, which, for me, put a fire in my belly and only made me more determined to level up. Mostly it was just a locked safe or computer, but wanting…no, needing to gain access kept driving me forwards. However, it would be a misnomer to call Wasteland 3’s world the driving force. The narrative, lore and in-game universe are so sublime that simply wanting to plot to unfold was enough. If the gameplay had have been average, Wasteland 3 would still have been a great game. The fact that Wasteland 3 has world-class storytelling makes it an amazing one.
I’ve not played the other games in the series but I never felt lost or out of the loop. Wasteland 3 seems to be standalone enough that not having knowledge of the previous titles isn’t a detriment. Sure, there are plenty of references and throwbacks to the other games but they’re not integral to the plot of Wasteland 3. It’s just fan service and flavour which makes this game perfect for any RPG fans and not franchise die-hards.
The game begins with the Rangers having arrived in Colorado from Arizona, looking for a missing squad. Ambushed by a local gang, the Rangers barely survive and locate The Patriarch who “owns” Colorado. From here, your main mission becomes clear, locate and capture each of The Patriarch’s children to prevent an uprising and the state descending into chaos. In return, The Patriarch promises to assist the Rangers, provide weaponry, shelter, food and more.
It wouldn’t serve any readers to learn more about the plot without playing it themselves but I will say, I’ve rarely seen a game that makes your decisions feel so important and have so much weight. Everything you do, say and choose has ramifications in Wasteland 3, many you won’t be expecting or even consider. And there’s definitely no black and white in this world, everything comes in shades of grey.
Choices arise frequently and often require you to choose who will live and who will die. It’s often difficult to decide and knowing the potential negative impacts of making a choice really can weigh heavily. inXile has totally nailed the in-game morality and rather than there being a “good” choice and a “bad” choice or “right and wrong”, Wasteland 3 offers two scenarios, both complex, both difficult and neither obviously correct.
The same can be said of the characters in Wasteland 3. There are good guys and bad guys, shady people, ‘heroes’ and villains but none of them is one-dimensional. These are all people with motivations, emotions and desires. inXile has built an entire world and populated it with living, breathing citizens. How you interact with them is up to you, but they’re certainly far more interesting and well-rounded than your run of the mill NPC.
Despite playing on PC, I used a gamepad. I’m a console player and even though I can use KBAM, I just prefer a controller. So, using one to play Wasteland 3 is actually quite intuitive and simple. You can select a member of your squad by using L1/LB/R1/RB and move them around the field with the left stick. The right stick rotates and zooms the camera and A/Cross allows you to interact with objects. When not engaged in combat, Wasteland 3 plays like a standard isometric RPG; Divinity, Diablo, Pillars of Eternity and the like.
Once combat begins through, Wasteland 3 becomes a tactical turn-based RPG. A grid appears on screen and you’re able to spend Action Points to move, shoot and use special abilities. Characters aren’t limited to a set number of moves per turn, nor are they prevented from moving should they take a shot first. A blue outline shows your maximum movement distance while still able to fire and a second line shows your maximum movement. Each squad members AP score, abilities, accuracy, health, strength etc, are governed by their stats. The more you level up, the more proficient they’ll become and the more you’ll be able to do.
At first, your squad will simply move, shoot and take cover. However, after learning some skills, perks and abilities, you’ll have a host of tricks up your sleeve. Learning how to combo skills greatly increases your chances of survival and makes turning the baddies into a fine red mist even more fun.
There are a huge number of weapons, armour and gear in Wasteland 3 and its loot game is strong. I spent a lot of time in the menus equipping each of my squad members with the best equipment for their stats, working out which abilities to invest in and experimenting with their proficiencies just so I could create the ultimate team.
It’s incredibly satisfying.
Wasteland 3 is an incredible videogame. It’s one of the top five games I’ve played this year and might be the best RPG I’ve played in recent memory. Every facet of it is deep, layered and complex. From the underlying systems and mechanics to the overarching plot and narrative to the morality and decisions that have to be made.
I was beginning to think the post-apocalyptic RPG was a thing of the past, a little passe and even overdone, but Wasteland 3 proves there’s plenty of life left. It also goes to show that large, curated RPG experiences are the top tier when it comes to role-playing videogames and that large, open-world games tend to lose focus and make the player feel lost, less powerful and less important.
If you’re an RPG fan, a Fallout fan or even just a videogame fan, do yourself a favour and play one of this year’s very best games; Wasteland 3.
Wasteland 3 was reviewed on PC using a digital copy provided by the publisher.